Is Maura Higgins a modern feminist to be lauded, or a sexual predator to be warned against?
Maura Higgins – love her or hate her, she does not seem to be going anywhere. The 28-year-old from County Longford rose to fame last summer after becoming a breakout star of Love Island 2019. During the show she was praised for her iconic phrases, quick humour and charming personality, and since leaving the island she has jumped to 2.5 million Instagram followers, a slot on Dancing on Ice, a host position on This Morning and much, much more. But what is so special about Maura? Is she any different to the hoards of contestants to come out of the island and more importantly, does she deserve her success and platform, despite many controversies?
As soon as Maura entered the villa it was clear she was going to bring a much-needed energy to a lack-lustre and frankly, dull series. Despite her glittering entrance, her Love Island introduction was by no means smooth. Maura had her sights set on boxer Tommy Fury and she persisted to try and avert his attention from 19-year-old influencer Molly-Mae. One of the many scenes that define her Love Island experience is on the sofa, where Maura is seen forcing Tommy to kiss her, when he clearly does not want to. The twitter reaction was instant; “Sexual Harassment”, “Predator”, “Kick Maura out!”. There were over 700 complaints to Ofcom.
Even though many people were very concerned viewing this behaviour, Ofcom dismissed the complaints. Their statement “while we recognise that many viewers disapproved of a contestant’s behaviour in this episode, we took into account the context in which it occurred”. The context is that the viewer sees less than an hour of content out of 24. Furthermore, there is strong evidence from former islanders to suggest producers are constantly in the wings poking them with a proverbial stick to do interesting, or controversial, things and to believe this show is natural is totally wrong. Also, I would strongly argue producers would remove someone from the villa immediately for actual predatorial behaviour, as there are psychologists on standby who regularly check in on islanders. As viewers, despite our personal opinions, we are unaware of how Tommy feels about the situation, since neither of them have mentioned the subject post-island. We did see that Maura did not repeat the behaviour and two remain good friends. Maura made a bad mistake however, to discredit everything she has done since would be arguably irrational, because the truth is so ambiguous and the context so abnormal.
Her next most well-known scene was putting 29-year-old Tom in his place, when he said that he wanted to find out if Maura was “all mouth”. Rightfully, Maura called him out. On such a huge platform, this was almost inspiring and sent out a clear message that such degrading language and “lad banter” was not on, even when it seemed the whole villa was against her – there’s a reason the Met Office have named a storm after her! Despite Tom’s efforts to portray Maura as a crazy-shouty woman. It didn’t work and he was dumped shortly after. This is significant, as it is a slight example of gaslighting; manipulating (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity. This could have easily been successful, but Maura consistently remained herself and showed a great attitude of defiance, which led to many people (probably a bit hastily) calling her a new feminist icon.
From this, however, Maura went from strength to strength in the eyes of viewers. She was always first to tell the truth and her illuminating facial expressions and witty running commentary of the show was a series highlight. Furthermore, she raised awareness of female sexuality. Throughout the series, she was extremely comfortable with letting everyone know when she’s “in the mood” and was in general very open about the topic of sex. Although that could sometimes be quite uncomfortable to watch, it is important to acknowledge that women are sexual beings and that is fine. Men talk about such issues so frequently it’s normalised, and that’s fine too, but for women it is stigmatised. This is why Maura mixing this with a large dose of humour is exactly what was needed to make it more acceptable to audiences. Hopefully future female islanders will not be afraid to follow in her footsteps by being honest and open about their sexuality.
In my opinion, Maura Higgins was a pretty good, albeit unusual result of Love Island. Despite her controversy, which still remains pretty ambiguous, she was the most interesting islander of 2019 and she represented female sexuality on TV in a way that hasn’t ever been done before. Whilst most islanders’ fame dwindles outside of the villa, Maura has been independent and maintained a strong public profile without much help from villa boyfriend Curtis. I argue, why shouldn’t she milk her fame whilst it lasts? She is not harming anyone; for example, her Instagram feed is not full of diet shakes or weight-loss pills like many of her fellow castmates. What can be seen however is an authentic and genuine woman living her dreams and promoting things she actually believes in. Maura Higgins is a breath of fresh air and the best thing to come out of Love Island 2019.